Sarah Parsons

Cows on Treadmills Could Produce Six Percent of the World's Power

by , 04/19/10

Livestock Power Mill, William Taylor, green farm, cattle, cattle and greenhouse gas emissions, cattle produce power, cow treadmill

At one farm in Northern Ireland, cows are giving up green grass in favor of green power. In order to decrease his reliance on fossil fuels for electricity, farmer William Taylor created the Livestock Power Mill, a treadmill that generates power as cows walk on it. It may seem like a kooky idea, but Taylor could really be onto something: According to his calculations, if the world’s 1.3 billion cattle used treadmills for eight hours a day, they could produce six percent of the world’s power.

Livestock Power Mill, William Taylor, green farm, cattle, cattle and greenhouse gas emissions, cattle produce power, cow treadmill

Cows are locked into a pen on top of a non-powered, inclined belt. To avoid sliding down the incline, the cow needs to walk, which turns the belt. As the belt turns, it spins a gearbox, which powers a generator. A feed box hooked to the front of the device keeps cows occupied and happy. One cow can produce about two kilowatts of electricity, enough energy to power four milking machines.

It may seem cruel to make cows sweat it out on a treadmill, but the routine is actually quite similar to the animals’ normal behavior. Cows walk about eight hours a day while grazing. Doing that walking on a treadmill provides the same amount of exercise with the added bonus of renewable power production.

For now, the Livestock Power Mill is just a prototype on Taylor’s farm. But if the idea catches on, we could see farms all over the world employing the useful device. Taylor estimates that a small farm could earn back a 50-cow system’s $100,000 price tag in a mere three years.

Via Popular Science

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33 Comments

  1. Fatino_Latino123 May 3, 2012 at 7:18 am

    This idea is fantastic let the cows eat the grass before it gets dark so you do not increase carbon dioxide and this will reduce the greenhouse emissions so at night look after the cows once they are on the treadmill then they can lose their fat and help us out with more electricity and lazy humans should be on an exercise bike generating electricity while others work and get their families to generate electricity at home :)

  2. blabla December 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Brilliant!

  3. mukhy July 13, 2010 at 9:43 am

    as we do excercises same is need for cattle if in treadmill any cattle does so what is bad in it. yoy may use extra cattle for thi perpose . as there are infertile cows after giving them excercise they can conceive for this perpose this is good idea of treadmil

  4. lilmisskaikai June 6, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    There’s a lot of morbidly obese people in America that need excercise. Why not cage them and force them to walk for 8 hours a day?
    Oh right, because THAT’S inhumane.
    Exploiting other species to further our own agenda… gee, sounds very familiar also very primitive. less like ‘Innovative’ design more like pointless frivolous crap.

    Why don’t WE take action instead of forcing other species to pick up the slack so WE don’t have to?

    More and more these days this site seems to be forgetting it’s purpose.

    please stop this…

  5. arimoore April 26, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Can we please stop coming up with more ways to exploit sentient beings?

  6. kernst April 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Many people such as myself, bike to work and spend most of our day working on computers. It would be so much more efficient if we could just be locked up in boxes with exercise bikes that power our computers. We could be fed energy bars and there would be a cot to rest on, we would never have to leave!

  7. permacultural April 25, 2010 at 7:35 am

    inordinately depressing solution. and to see it here on a website of this nature. the key to any solution is less cruely – empathy is understanding, is knowledge; knowledge of our complex relationship with: how that works. monitor each day as solution. if its not right today it won\’t be tomorrow. i cant imagine a more grotesque future scenario than millions of steel encased cows – whats the carbon footprint of these machines, how is that solution? yuk again humans!

  8. Jeremy April 24, 2010 at 6:43 am

    Hmm, I’m not sure the cows are free to express their natural behaviour in this scenario. But there should be other ways of doing the same thing. There malls and stations that have a sprung floor that generates electricity from pedestrians. Maybe you could fit that in a barn when the cows are indoors for the winter.

  9. Bryan Allen April 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    The percentage in the headline is off by orders of magnitude. It’s no accident that HORSES were used to pump water out of coal diggings (whence comes the term Horsepower) rather than cows. A brief bit of research will show you (try Wikipedia) that a horse cannot put out a sustained 1 HP for a time period of eight hours. 1 HP = 746 watts. Since cows are less powerful than horses, it seems unlikely that they could produce more than 500 watts continuously, and even that is wildly optimistic. But given 500 watts per cow x 1.2 billion cows x 8 hours per day, that’s still only a continuous averaged power of 200 Megawatts, which is 50% LESS than what the wind generators in California are producing as I write this e-mail. And California is using 26,000 Megawatts total right now.

    Approach it from the other direction: even if the “cow-generator” only costs $2000 per copy, that’s $2.4 TRILLION for the generators alone!

    Fail.

  10. jbisdaman April 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Aren’t we supposed to fatten the cows up to make them more delicious?

  11. BRE1220 April 21, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I’ve spent my entire life on a dairy farm. Cows do not walk for 8 hours a day. This is disgusting. The way the machine is set up is horrible. These are clumsy animals. The way this machine is set up provides them with the inability to lie down or make any normal movements; if they do anything but walk, they’re going to get tangled or bruised in the treadmill bars. Also, the machine limits head movement. Often, cows use their heads to toss grass and other products over themselves as a defense against flies. They can’t do that in this machine.

    This machine goes against everything that is natural.
    As someone who works with these animals, William Taylor should know better. This is simply inhumane.

  12. tcr25 April 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Interesting, but I wonder if someone’s having a bit of the craic here … the cow in the photo appears to be attached to some sort of gristmill, not a generator.

  13. porridge April 20, 2010 at 12:27 am

    I’m glad a few people who commented have empathy for other beings besides humans.

  14. Eclipse Now April 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    I’m just wondering how much energy it takes to manufacture this device, and then gather the feed and give the feed to the cow rather than the cow walking to find the feed. It seems a bit silly. What’s the ERoEI of these cow-power treadmills?
    Integral Fast Reactors eat nuclear waste and weapons. They burn 90% of the waste, and the tithe that is left over is so “hot” it burns itself out in just 300 years (and is then safe). The good news is we’ve got enough nuclear waste to run the world for 500 years! So we do not have an *energy* crisis as such, but a liquid fuels infrastructure crisis. Once we’ve converted our transport and mining systems to electricity, we’ll be in a much more sustainable place.

  15. gg123 April 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Energy negative. Costs more energy to create the machine, ship it and install it than it will ever generate.

  16. DR-Buck April 19, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    If we didn’t eat them, we wouldn’t need to raise them would we??

  17. hownowbrowncow April 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Try being forced to walk 8 hours a day. It\\\’s bad enough that they are raised for the sole purpose of being eaten now they are being forced to work so we can have power to cool our air and watch TV.

  18. ihavetermites April 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    This is horribly cruel! They are animals not machines! Let’s put some fatty Americans on the treadmills to do their part.

  19. cipolo April 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    @matthewbate

    I’m not sure what you are referring to as the “designer battery cage”, but a deeper mystery is why you think this treadmill is profoundly cruel. Have you experienced anything more than this article? Care to provide any concrete details regarding your research or experience? Does a walking cow offend you?

    Thanks!

    Michael

  20. DeDi April 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    And what are these cows going to be fed to maintain their energy expenditure? GMO corn? Lovely!

  21. adamarthurryan April 19, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    This is a new low for ‘biofuels’ common sense. We are going to grow crops with petrochem fertilizers and drive them in diesel trucks on asphalt highways to farms. Then we’ll feed the food to cows, who will walk on a ramp to generate power – burping methane like maniacs the whole time. (Perhaps they will burp less, perhaps not – but they will have to eat more, won’t they?)

    Get it together! This is a total joke. Maybe we should just cut down on the burgers, instead. Perhaps that’s not ‘elegant’ enough for the design community.

  22. algoa April 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Keep your pants on cowboy it’s a prototype like in
    ” An original type, form, or instance serving as a basis or standard for later stages.
    An original, full-scale, and usually working model of a new product or new version of an existing product.
    An early, typical example.”

    [French, from Greek prōtotupon, from neuter of prōtotupos, original : prōto-, proto- + tupos, model.]

    Later model “if there are any” will get better and less bulky.
    The idea is not bad the design is in the rough so no need to choke on your coffee.

  23. bugmenot April 19, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    How is it cruel?

  24. Cav guy April 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    what\’s cruel about it? that they can\’t \”wander\” and destroy more farmland as they do it? I think this is brilliant.
    Now just add a methane capture mechanism for the cow\’s gas and store it underground when you take out natural gas.

  25. McQueeg April 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    profoundly cruel? You mean, walking is a cruel punishment?

    Got it.

  26. pubwvj April 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    We raise pigs on pasture. They will literally walk many miles a day. Generally they walk a ways and then graze or root, walk a ways, eat again, walk, eat, etc. From their night area near our house in the home fields they walk out as far as a mile at times, usually less though. The incline could work. The big sows and boars weight 800 to 1,400 lbs much like a cow. They’re already walking and burning these calories so there isn’t a loss.

    With the right motivation they would walk for an hour or so but then they’re going to want to lay down and rest so if you want continuous power you’ll need to have at least two of of these running and be swapping out animals frequently. There is nothing inherently cruel about this, the animals naturally walk long distances. Just do it in shifts. It’s much like people walking tread mills for their health. Which we should also hook up to power generation, of course.

    Someone elsewhere mentioned about them walking out of fear of falling due to the incline of the treadmill. No, that is false. The animals are not walking out of fear of falling and the incline is not a problem. We live on a mountain. Our pastures are on the sides of the mountain and far steeper than the incline of that treadmill. Our livestock as well as the moose, deer, turkeys, etc all do fine walking up and down the slopes.

    Cheers

    -Walter
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
    in the mountains of Vermont
    Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa

  27. AnnaWaller April 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    As a cow owner myself, I understand that cows truly do walk and eat all day. It’s natural to them. I think this idea is genius and hope it catches on. Thanks for posting.

  28. farmer2 April 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    While this noble! design makes the cows walk for energy.. some greedy pigs will want the cows run so that entire world energy is given by cows.. and lazy humans will eat and gaze and sleep instead…

  29. emilysmind April 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Cows? Why not lazy humans? Let the cows graze in the field like cows, we should be the ones getting exercise and solving energy problems.

  30. Odin April 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Wait… people complain about putting a cow in a pen all day, but when we give them the chance to get some exercise, you start to complain? We find a way to reduce greenhouse gasses and decrease carbon emissions and you still complain? You can’t be pleased, therefore you should be ignored.

  31. Dubber Dan April 19, 2010 at 11:57 am

    An interesting idea, but I’d much rather the cows were out in the fields wandering about as is natural. The get the farm hooked up to solar/wind/geothermal/hydro for generating their power locally.

  32. etnies April 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

    This is absolutely disgusting, I hope he gets shut down for animal cruelty.

  33. matthewbate April 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

    WTF?

    Why is Inhabitat promoting such profoundly cruel systems such as this and the designer battery cage?

    I am astonished by this.

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